Entrepreneurial success, now snack-sized

By GREGORY ZELLER //

There’s a good chance your Memorial Day snacks, and other sweet and salty selections in your summer picnic basket, come courtesy of Jake Schmigelski.

Forget trying to pronounce it – his own family adopted the pseudonym “Gale” years ago, he noted – and just bask in Schmigelski’s genius, which turned a wandering one-man-show into a major regional broker and redistributor of some of your favorite munchies.

Distribution czar Jake Schmigelski

Distribution czar Jake Schmigelski

So if you got your Bud’s Best Cookies or your Athena Bar or your Bugles, the stalwart General Mills snack, from a Key Foods, Compare Foods or Bravo supermarket, or from any of dozens of independent delis and convenience stores across Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York City, raise a chip to Schmigelski, the little snack broker who could.

The rise to go-to goodies guy has been quick, and largely unexpected. Former Stony Brook University student Schmigelski had worked a bunch of odd jobs – “nothing of substance,” he said – until one struck a nerve: local pickle sales for a Long Island manufacturer.

Working as a freelance food broker opened Schmigelski’s eyes, and soon he was brokering deals for other brands, including the Athena Bar and Popcorners, a popular chip produced by Middletown’s Medora Snacks. He did well, earning commissions for pumping those products straight to retailers and other distribution channels, and soon recognized further opportunities in redistribution – not only brokering deals, but actually buying and reselling third-party products.

In 2013 he launched Gale International Trading LLC, and three years, two full-time drivers and one 2,000-square-foot Deer Park warehouse later, he fondly recalls his decision to “vertically integrate” his food-distribution interests.

Through his wholesaling business, Schmigelski takes possession of third-party products – everything from locally produced plantain chips to major sellers from national manufacturer Barcelona Nut Co. – and resells them to regional supermarket chains, independent grocers and smaller distributors.

“The independent guy with one van,” he noted, “like I was.”

Three years into Gale International Trading, the original brokerage side is also holding steady. Instead of receiving a truckload of peanuts and selling it off by the pallet to retailers and wholesale partners, Schmigelski the broker is more of a middle man, negotiating deals between manufacturers – including some he also redistributes – and various independent and chain markets.

Nurturing the two sides has required some hi-tech assistance. Schmigelski singled out the accounting and inventory-control advantages of QuickBooks’ small-business software, which “let you invest in new things smartly.”

“I won’t go out and purchase products that I know I can’t afford,” he noted. “But if I know there’s additional money coming in this month, I can invest it wisely back in the business, put it into new products.”

While the software has been key to Gale International Trading’s rapid growth, the entrepreneur credited a decidedly low-tech philosophy as the most important component of his business-building strategy.

“It’s a very networking-based, grassroots business,” he told Innovate LI. “It’s not SEO, online-advertising based. It’s pick-up-the-phone-and-drive-over.

“The new business I get comes from my existing customers and from friends who refer me to other opportunities,” Schmigelski added. “I pay as much attention to my old business as my new business. Reputation is everything to me.”

The company redistributed for a time under the Schmig’s Supply Co. brand – another attempt, Schmigelski noted, to escape that difficult surname – but “Gale caught on better.” Now, with the Schmig’s DBA phasing out, the surging startup is looking ahead.

This month, Gale International Trading started redistributing to its first Pennsylvania customer, a Philadelphia wholesaler that not only gives the startup its fourth distribution state but its first foothold in another major metropolis.

And Schmigelski is gearing up to launch Robyn’s Rinds, the food firm’s first private-label product. Named for the founder’s mom, Robyn’s Rinds are third-party pork snacks in proprietary packaging – Schmigelski owns the name and the logo – and should hit regional shelves by September.

“Pork rinds are very popular in New York City,” the entrepreneur noted. “In Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Harlem … it’s an extraordinarily popular item. There’s good money in it. There’s good volume in it. And there’s good flavor.”

Even with his fourth distribution state in the bag and his first-ever private-label product on the way, Schmigelski – who poured $20,000 of his own money and some “nominal” friends and family investments into Gale International Trading – believes his No. 1 innovation since forming his LLC has been embracing a concept as old as commerce itself.

“Being able to progress, in three years, from one guy driving around in a Saturn, selling five boxes a day, into a company that moves truckloads of products every month – it certainly requires hard work and a little luck,” he said.

But every ounce of effort has come back to him, Schmigelski added, noting the “instant gratification” aspects of small-business ownership.

“I love the independence of it,” he said. “I like the self-determination aspect, waking up today and deciding if I’m going to manufacture this or sell that.

“You can see a direct correlation between working hard and making it happen, when it’s your own business.”

 

Gale International Trading LLC

What’s It? Regional snack food redistributor and broker – and soon, manufacturer

Brought To You By: Jake Schmigelski, who was hungry for success

All In: $20,000, self-invested by Schmigelski, to stock up

Status: Your Athena Bar probably went through his warehouse


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